The twin issues of immigration and asylum are rising up the political agenda fast back home in the UK. So is the growth of the British National Party. Its racist views must be abhorred and rejected, but it is Labour’s failure to address these twin issues that has fuelled its recent growth.
The UK Government recently produced a report on asylum seekers, spinning the line that the numbers are coming down. On some measures that is technically true, but it is also true that while nearly 90 per cent of asylum applications are now rejected, the majority of those rejected still manage to stay in the country.
It is also true that separate immigration figures show a record number were allowed to settle in the UK in 2003, well over double the annual level of immigrants than when Labour came to power. These are just the ones we know about. It is also true that large numbers of immigrants are still smuggling themselves into the country. Official estimates suggest as many as 500,000 people enter the European Union illegally every year, mainly from North Africa, Asia and the Balkan states. Between 100,000 and 200,000 immigrants successfully make it to Britain, disappearing into the black economy.
It is no surprise that so many people want to come to the UK. We have a proud record in terms of human rights and race relations. We warmly welcomed the many Ugandan Asians escaping Idi Amin, as well as the thousands fleeing persecution from Iraq and Afghanistan. We have a rich variety of happy and successful ethnic communities to which newcomers can bond. We have a National Health Service, effectively free to all-comers. We speak English as our first language. Finally, compared with many EU countries, the UK has relatively generous social welfare benefits.
But all this simply increases the problem. The government’s passive projection of a further five million immigrants over the next 30 years has to be challenged. There is a general perception that far too many people are already settling into our small and crowded island, that their enjoyment of new-found rights can put an impossible strain on local public services, and that this, in turn, can push the rights of existing communities further down the queue. This view is widely shared by ethnic minority groups already here.
We need an active asylum and immigration policy that provides firmer controls and is fairer to existing communities. We need the three major political parties to show leadership and to work together in the common cause. We need less government spin and more real action. And we need it now. Otherwise the UK will not just have spiralling immigration. There will also be spiralling membership of a blatantly racist party – and that will be an even bigger problem.